Oct. 24, 2012 -- The Florida ethics commission has found "probable cause" that U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R) has committed 11 violations of state ethics laws during his time in the Florida legislature.
Rivera, who served in the Florida legislature for eight years before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, is alleged to have accepted illicit payments from companies that were meant to influence his vote as a state representative, misused campaign funds for non-campaign purposes and failed to report income from outside sources, according to documents made public Wednesday by the Florida Commission on Ethics.
The Cuban-American lawmaker from South Florida has been dogged with ethical and legal issues since first being elected to the House in 2010. And Rivera currently faces a tough race against Democrat Joe Garcia (D), whom he defeated two years ago. The race leans Democratic, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Among the ethics committee's accusations is that there is probable cause to believe a contract Rivera had with Southwest Florida Enterprises, Inc. (SFEI) through a company named Millennium Marketing "would create a continually or frequently recurring conflict between [his] private interests and the performance of his public duties as a Florida Representative and/or would impede the full and faithful discharge of [his] public duties."
Rivera is alleged to have been enlisted by Flagler Dog Track, which was owned by SFEI, to promote a ballot referendum on gaming in Miami-Dade County. The measure eventually passed in 2008. But Rivera allegedly had the payments sent to Millennium Marketing, a company owned by members of Rivera's family, including his mother. Rivera allegedly accepted $132,000 in payments from Millennium, which he did not originally disclose publicly. The accusation has been at the center of legal questions surrounding Rivera for nearly two years.
Rivera's campaign issued a statement calling the charges false and blaming them on his opponent, Garcia.
"These allegations are false and will be dismissed shortly. It is unfortunate that the Florida Ethics Commission deliberately chose to play politics by injecting itself into the middle of an election after voting has started," Rivera said in the statement.
The congressman suggested that two of his accusers would have reason to act against him: "It is no coincidence that these frivolous complaints from two years ago – one from a major donor to Joe Garcia and another from someone who was convicted of threatening to kill Jeb Bush – were suddenly acted upon just two weeks before the election. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for the Commission to have acted now on these old politically motivated claims, which have already been dismissed by other authorities, other than to try and influence the outcome of this election for its own agenda."
The charges brought against Rivera are civil and not criminal. According to the ethics commission, Rivera has the right to seek an evidentiary hearing on the matter or reach a settlement. The range of penalties includes a public reprimand or a civil penalty of $10,000 per violation, according to commission spokeswoman Kerrie Stillman.
Rivera reportedly remains under federal investigation over his personal and campaign finances, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement decided to drop its probe earlier this year.
In a separate matter, the FBI is reportedly investigating Rivera for secretly funding the campaign of Justin Lamar Sternad, a candidate running against Garcia in the Democratic primary earlier this year. Rivera has denied that he had any involvement with the campaign.